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The Mr. Big Sting in Canada



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For approximately the last fifteen years, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been mounting highly sophisticated undercover sting operations in Canada known colloquially as Mr. Big stings. These undercover operations involve multiple officers posing as members of a ruthless, powerful and wealthy criminal organization in order to trick suspects into making confessions to serious crimes, nearly always homicides. The undercover officers essentially orchestrate a chance meeting with the suspect, known operationally as the “target”, and exert their considerable influence and resources to convince him that he is being inducted into a criminal gang. The target is typically a person suspected of having committed a murder in the past, but who has never been charged due to lack of evidence. Over a period of months or weeks the undercover officers attempt to build a relationship with the target based on fear, greed, companionship, or a combination of those or other emotions. The target is given tasks to perform which appear criminal in nature, but which are actually staged crimes in which every participant is an undercover officer. The target is eventually told he must meet with the boss of the gang, the “Mr. Big” after whom the sting is named, in order for a final decision to be made on whether or not the target can join the gang. The target is told that he must confess to the previous murder of which he is suspected in order to join the gang. Sometimes the target confesses readily, other times he protests his innocence, but Mr. Big will not accept exculpatory statements. Often further inducements are offered by Mr. Big, most notably a promise to derail the investigation by using his influence over corrupt justice system participants. If the suspect admits culpability he will be charged with the crime and nearly always convicted at trial. Canadian courts have exercised virtually no control over police tactics in these cases. Defence counsel have argued against the use of the evidence on the basis of a breach of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with regard to the right to silence and also with regard to abuse of process. These arguments have been unsuccessful. Defence counsel have also argued unsuccessfully that the statements should be inadmissible under Canadian hearsay law. It has also been argued, equally unsuccessfully, that the undercover operators should be treated as persons-in-authority, and hence that the statements elicited from the targets should have to be proven voluntary beyond a reasonable doubt. Canadian judges have also been unwilling to allow the defence to lead expert evidence in these cases to tell the trier of fact about the possibility of false confessions. The ultimate result is that there is no control over police tactics in these stings. There has been one proven wrongful conviction as a result of these stings, that of Kyle Wayne Unger. Other wrongful convictions may come to light. Short of its outright abolition, probably the best way to control the sting and prevent wrongful convictions is to subject the statements to a formal voluntariness inquiry.



undercover, undercover RCMP operation, confessions, wrongful convictions



Master of Laws (LL.M.)






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